It’s not your imagination: Taking breaks helps you and your colleagues be more productive and feel happier. However, in one survey, a quarter of employees said they didn’t take breaks other than lunch, and 19% didn’t even take a lunch break. Unfortunately, these statistics may reflect the sad state of office break rooms.
The good news? You can make your break room a clean, safe, enjoyable place by setting high standards and creating guidelines. Read on to discover some basic rules of break room etiquette.
Label your goods
Labeling won’t solve all the office problems, but it can make a communal fridge easier to navigate and keep clean. Always label your food, especially if you bring in a tempting item or something your colleagues may confuse as communal, such as a carton of creamer. Include a date on leftovers and bagged lunches. Want your colleagues to follow your example? Hang a package of labels and a couple of sharpies on the fridge door.
Don’t be a lunch bandit
Yes, your colleague’s deli sandwich looks better than your package of noodles. No, you shouldn’t swipe it. In one survey, nearly 4% of workers admitted they’d stolen a lunch from a colleague at some point, and more than 8% of people said they had their lunch stolen. While hunger can make people irrational and impatient, stealing food breeds distrust and resentment between colleagues. Never assume a cup of yogurt has been abandoned or a bag of grapes is up for grabs. Ask before you take a bite.
Toss old food
We’ve all left a sandwich in the office fridge a few days too long, but it’s important to evict old food. When it comes to the staff fridge, repeat this motto: If in doubt, throw it out. Overstuffed fridges don’t allow air to circulate, which is necessary for keeping items cold. As a rule of thumb, toss any leftovers that have been sitting for four or more days. Throw away perishable items that look or smell strange or have passed the “use by” expiration date. “Sell by,” “best if used by,” and “guaranteed fresh” dates are more flexible than “use by;” items are usually good for a few days to one week after these dates have passed. If your office hasn’t posted fridge rules and a weekly fridge cleaning schedule, it’s probably time to create them.
Stick with neutral smelling food
Fish is a healthy food, but it won’t make you popular at the office. In a survey, it was ranked as the most offensive food coworkers bring to work. Want to avoid being known as the “smelly coworker?” Don’t reheat salmon in the office microwave or bring a tuna fish sandwich to eat in a shared workspace. Also consider skipping other foods ranked as offensive by office workers: hot dogs, kimchi, hard boiled eggs, and raw onions.
If you finish it, replace it
No one wants to spend their fleeting morning break waiting for coffee to brew. Whether it’s making a new pot of java, changing out a roll of paper towels, or refilling an ice tray, the Golden Rule applies in the break room. Always think of the person who will visit after you.
Clean up after yourself
This should probably go without saying, but it doesn’t always happen. Wipe up spills and splatters, clean up crumbs, and wash or load dishes in the dishwasher. For deeper cleaning tasks, decide who’s in charge or create a rotating schedule. Refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee pots and carafes should be cleaned weekly. Stock the break room with disinfectant wipes so people are more likely to routinely wipe down microwave and vending-machine buttons as well as fridge and faucet handles.
Share food, not germs
Sharing food at work is a time-honored tradition, but you don’t want to share illness-causing bacteria. In general, according to food-safety experts perishable food should only sit at room temperature for a maximum of 2 hours. After that, return it to the fridge or toss it.
Operation Beautiful Break Room
Behavior is contagious. If you do your part to clean up hopefully your colleagues will follow suit. (Hint: if they don’t, post this article on the staff fridge.) Set a high standard for break-room etiquette and transform your break room into a clean, relaxing, comfortable, safe space. That way everyone (including you) can enjoy taking rests from work.